Georgia: The Balcony of Europe

If the balcony is the most beautiful part of an apartment building, well, it’s the same thing as the country of Georgia. This is, after all, the famed balcony of Europe.

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is the heartbeat of the Caucasus. The city is making an effort to catch up after being left behind during the days where it was still part of the Soviet Union. There are upscale hotels, restaurants and nightlife in the centre of the city. I arrived in the capital at 05.00am on Sunday and noticed that the streets were filled with young people just getting home after a night of partying.

The ancient fourth-century fortress of Narikala overlooks Tbilisi and that is where I was headed on Sunday morning. On the way I stopped at Saint Nicholas Church, which was originally built in the 13th century but was rebuilt in the 1990s after being destroyed in a fire. The sound of the ringing church bell signalled that the service was about to begin.

I enjoyed attending Saint Nicholas Church that very beautiful Sunday, not to mention the gorgeous sights from the fort of the city of Tbilisi. The warm weather, gentle breezes and red poppies gently waving in the bright sunlight completed the postcard-perfect scene on my first day in Georgia. The mix of the old and new can really be sensed in Tbilisi. The majestic Bridge of Peace spans the Kura River and served to connect the old town of Tbilisi with the modern city.

Nature and Churches
It doesn’t matter where you go, Georgia’s natural beauty will leave you speechless. It is hard to believe that with how magical this country is that there are so few tourists. Keep in mind that while in Georgia, one should enjoy the beautiful spectacle of the mountains. The country is home to the Caucasus mountains, making this one of the most wonderful places I had ever visited. In other words, it is immense and beyond words.

The Orthodox churches in Georgia have a lot of mystique and tradition. Georgia is one of the oldest Christian countries in the world and is home to lots of old-style churches that trace the history of Christianity in the country. For me, Gergeti Trinity Church is the most spectacular of Georgia’s churches. It is located in Gergeti village, at an elevation of 2,170 metres, below Mount Kazbegi. The Church of Gergeti Trinity, or The Holly Trinity, was built during the 14th century and is isolated right above a very steep mountainside, surrounded by the nature that has made it the symbol of Georgia.

House of Stalin
Georgia was part of the former Soviet Union and there are signs of that everywhere, including the old Soviet-made vehicles that people are still driving, especially outside of Tbilisi. Joseph Stalin, who was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953, was born in Gori, part of today’s Georgia. Even though Stalin was a violent dictator, lots of Georgians respect him.

Local Cuisine
Some of the best times I had in Georgia were when I was out with the locals, enjoying traditional meals together. The cuisine of Georgia has been influenced by European and Middle Eastern food. One of the most iconic foods of Georgia is khinkali, a kind of dumpling. Khinkali is usually filled with seasoned pork, beef and sometimes lamb. There is a preferred way to eat this traditional dish. After the first bite, you suck out all the juices from inside the dumpling, and then you savour the rest of the khinkali.

Georgia made me see and realize the true meaning of authenticity, especially when I had the pleasure to spend time with the locals. They were strangers, yet they treated me like we were old friends and welcomed me with their warm embrace. This is because for Georgians, a guest is a gift from God.

Text & Photos by Fabiola Lawalata

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